Saturday, December 29, 2012

Urban Yarn Harvesting to subvert Christmas present to Christmas past

On Christmas eve we got together in the field house to undermine the last 40 years of Christmas tradition.........

What if told you that you could change your knitting habits so that it could mean saving CO2 rather than increasing it and rather than contributing to global climate change, actually helped reduce it?

What if I told you that there's an infinite supply of very cheap cashmere, silk and merino yarns out there waiting to be mined? Got your interest?

With this in mind, Martin Borden went out hunting. He came back with a navy blue, thrift store, pure merino frame knitted sweater. I was able to confirm that this was the kind of sweater that you could easily unravel. Some sweaters are made garment shaped (like an hand knitter would knit them) and some are cut from a sheet of knitted fabric - this latter kind don't unravel except as short yarn lengths, as the edges have been cut. Not very useful.

Flushed with success, he went out for a Urban Yarn Harvest hunt at Value Village. His haul included several silk, cashmere, and cashmere and silk blend sweaters.

We spent Christmas Eve unpicking the seams and using my spinning wheel to unravel the yarn. The neck  alone of the merino sweater prouced 50g - worth more than the garment had cost!

Commerical yarn sweaters are made of very fine yarn, so plying the threads together gives you a handknitting weight. Currently Martin is working on plying a gold silk with the navy merino yarn to produce a tweed-like effect for knitting his next sweater. He has made himself a patented sweater unraveller from an old hand drill, and intends to ply on a drop spindle. He drops his spindle over the bannisters and down into his stair well for maximum efficiency. I hope he'll put some photos up on his blog to show you all this!

Don't forget that you can also unravel unnatural fibre yarns like acrylic and ply them onto wool  to make excellent sock yarn. Also, don't throw away all the short lengths that you can end up with when yarn breaks. Chop them into 3-5cm lengths and add them into your fleece as you spin. Makes great 'art yarn' and also is a way to introduce some silk (or cashmere, or merino) into what you're spinning.

If you don't spin (and don't forget you can learn how to do that at Urban Weaver) you can always compost your yarn ends or bury them under your beans for moisture retention (old English gardener's trick!).

So, with just a drop spindle, and a bit of luck in the UYH hunt, you can save wool, cashmere, silk, cotton and acrylic yarns from the landfill, or from being exported (at great CO2 cost) to poorer countries. In the countries where they are shipped, they rob the local weavers and spinners of a living and undermine the local cloth and weaving traditions that have been passed down for centuries. You can save the shipping of new fibre around the world several times in the quest to get it produced into yarn and then garments at as close to slave labour wages as possible. You can save the production of cotton and the environmental and water degradation that entails, the strangle-hold of Monsanto that has lead to so many Indian farmers killing themselves, and the forced labour of children in Uzbekistan*. With just a little effort you can subvert what has become the season norm, save greenhouse gases and have your gift giving not contribute to global climate change and human misery. Now wouldn't that be a merrier Christmas?

Plus, you could be giving your knitting and weaving friends balls of  unique, one of a kind Urban Yarn for Christmas next year, and you even have time to knit/weave something for them - how cool is that? And if you need to learn any of the techniques to achieve that, it's all free at the Urban Weaver on Monday nights - just ask and I'll set up a workshop.


*PS If you want to lean how to spin and knit cotton wool balls into a face cloth that can be washed for years, ask me how. No need to buy cotton wool balls, use them once and throw them away.......

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Urban Weaver flax project update - grow some of your own!

At the end of November I dug over a space in a garden that I 'borrow' and covered it with cardboard to stop weeds regrowing.

It was manured last year, so from what I read that should be sufficient nitrogen for next year's growing season. Flax does not require much nitrogen. Over-fertilizing can result in long spindly stalks that lodge easily. The ratio of N:P:K should be 4:7:7.

Nothing left to do until spring planting but get on with the planning.

I am getting plans from for the scutcher, breaker and rippler. Martin Border (he of the lovely spindled, walnut dyed knitted sweater) will be building them.

The hackles will come from Dragonfly Farm These are the most expensive part of the project and will take up almost all of the grant.

I'm still looking for a Canadian supplier of 'Marilyn' flax seed, otherwise will have to order it from Kentucky

There are two people who are going to grow flax in plots of their own (in community gardens). Of course they'll be able to take advantage of the flax processing equipment at the field house to make their own linen.

So if you want to grow some flax for yourself, remember that the processing equipment will be here for you to use once you've dried and retted your crop.

It takes a 20x20 foot plot to grow enough to make a shirt, but you can always grow a smaller amount over several years and save it. Once the flax is dried, it can be retted at any time. Once it is retted it can be processed at any time. Of course the linen fibre will keep for hundreds of years!

You can read the blog posts here and see when I plant/weed/harvest/rett etc and follow along with your crop.

Crafty Mondays in January

There will be craft nights again starting January 7th, (actually I'll be there December 24th too if anyone wants to come along).

So far nothing is booked in as a topic for January 7th, but January 14th we will be warping an Ashford knitter's loom and looking at simple small looms you can make at home.

January 21st will be making crochet lace edges. Bring along some fine crochet cotton and anything you want to make a lace edge for (like a pillow case). I have some fine crochet hooks for this - Dressew sells them at $1 for 6!

Crafty Monday's start at 6pm and run until 8.

If there's something else you want to learn or teach us, please come along and let me know. 

Meanwhile, here's Martin's blog about the process of learning to spindle and knit since October this year, and the sweater he has almost completed just to tempt you into the idea of making a sweater from scratch yourself.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Monday 10th and 17th December craft evenings cancelled

Sorry to give you such short notice folks, but we've just been told that Andy (my husband) will be having eye surgery on Monday.

It will leave him totally blind for a while, and assuming all goes well it will take 6 weeks to recover his sight. I therefore don't feel I can committ to anymore Monday craft nights this year.

Look out on this blog for information about Mondays in January.....................


Monday, December 3, 2012

How to grow a shirt and other revolutionary ideas

How to grow a shirt and other revolutionary ideas

I thought people might find the linked article interesting. You can see all the steps that will be involved in the flax growing and processing (apart from building the processing equipment) from soil prep to shirt.

I also thought it might be time to talk about the reason for this project. Then Sharon Kallis, the motivational force behind the Urban Weaver Project wrote this blogpost from Mexico.

It pretty much sums up why the flax project is important.

We are all inextricably linked in space and time by what we choose to buy, what we choose to eat, how we choose to move about. When we choose a car journey over transit, we are choosing to support the destruction of habitat and water quality, the loss of a place to live and food to eat for other people in countries that have ‘the curse of oil’ When we fly/drive/eat meat we choose our own convenience over the global climate change that it causes and the resultant damage and destruction now and to our children’s future.
When we shop, we buy the future planetary conditions for our and other people’s children.

It is already possible for us to live in another way that takes into account the consequences of our choices. For me, the flax growing project is just an extension of those choices.

Not many generations ago it wasn’t possible to buy clothes made from fibers grown half a world away, then in processing shipped round the globe several times to exploit people who would work much cheaper than we would ourselves. There wasn’t the oil available to do that.

People grew their own fibers and made their own clothing. They treasured the clothes they made, aware of the labour that went into them. It’s perfectly possible to grow our own flax here - we have the ideal climate.  By next summer there will be the equipment available free to all for processing flax, made by Martin Borden (more about him below). Already you can come to McLean field house and learn the skills of spinning and weaving, knitting and dyeing - for free.

All you need is to find space for your flax. Ask your neighbours if they will let you grow some in their garden (the flowers are so pretty!). Get a plot on a community garden and grow some. If you can’t find enough space for a large enough crop in one year, take 2 years to grow enough for your shirt.

Meanwhile, why not do something revolutionary in 2012?

Buy some local fleece. Make a spindle. Dye your yarn with local dye material, and knit yourself a sweater.

Martin Borden, Urban Weaver’s woodworker and film maker learned to spindle in October, to knit in November, dyed his spun yarn with walnut hulls gathered from the sidewalk in the West End and is doing just that!


Friday, November 30, 2012

Exciting news for the Vancouver Flax growing project

Much to my surprise I have been awarded a grant for my Vancouver flax growing project. I've never applied for a grant before and didn't expect to be successful.

I'm going to be growing flax next year at the Means of Production garden and also in what I call my Other Garden (a back yard of a nearby rental property). I now have the money to buy/build the flax processing equipment neccessary to turn flax into linen fibre and  enough left to hire a Modo truck to bring in some compost and manure.

Flax was grown all over BC, as far north as Bella Coola - we have the ideal climate. Families planted a small plot of it every few years to provide the material to make garments, bed sheets etc. As it's such a hard wearing fibre, it wasn't neccessary to plant every year. Being able to process, spin and weave your own linens wasn't an art, it was just what you had to do if you wanted something other than woollen underwear (scratchy!) and blankets.

I'll be posting about the project on this website and also MOP, and have already begun the process of getting the land ready at the Other Garden. Caitlin ffrench (knitter, weaver, spinner, dyer and much more) will be partnering with me to grow at MOP, and she'll take the project forward in 2014 to grow more flax at Trillium Park and various other City pieces of land.

The flax processing equipment will be stored at the field house until Trillium Park's artist space is ready and will be available for anyone to use. If you want to grow some flax in your garden (it has such pretty flowers!) let me know. Flax seed from the store won't work, it needs to be a specific fibre producing type ('Marilyn', available here You could grow some at home and use the processing equipment to make your own linen.

So check out this blog for updates on the flax growing process and also the retting, braking, scutching, hackling, strick making, spinning and weaving of flax in Vancouver.


Sideways sox pattern missing line

There's a missing line in the Sideways sox pattern below - it gets partly cut off by the scanner. It should read:

'Knit straight until your sock is as wide'.... (rest of the instructions do appear), 'as the top of your foot at your toes'.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Sideways sox and Dec 3rd

Just posted my adapted sideways sox pattern that was pinned to the wall in the field house for so long......

If you're coming on December 3rd to learn sideways sox, please print yourself a copy or have it on your phone (depending on how old you are!).

Don't forget to bring needles that are the same width as two strands of your yarn laid side by side, and a large safety pin or paper clip as a stitch marker.

I'll have a variety of people there starting sox of different types (like top down, two on one needle or toe up) and also some people with UFOs (unfinished objects) that have stalled. I'll try and give everyone some individual attention but please remember my advanced age and very young knee!


The Sideways sox pattern adapted for beginner knitters

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Mixed media basket

This small basket, woven by one of our beginner weavers, was started during the Cedar Weaving workshop and completed at the recent Weaving with Invasive Plants workshop.

Woven using a combination of materials: 
Red cedar provides the warp and forms the base of the basket. 
Yellow Flag Iris leaves give a beautifully textured and subtle coloured band. 
A couple of twined rows of yellow cedar finish the edge and lead into the driftwood handle.

Woven by Janice - November 2012

Monday, November 19, 2012

A fun "Crawl" was had by all

It was great to see all the enthusiasm from the community about the work we have been doing through our studio this past year. 
Thank-you to everyone who walked through the door to share our cozy space and to talk about
 weaving, spinning and knitting with us!  

 A big "Thank you!" goes out to all the Urban Weaver Collective members who helped set-up and clean-up the space, gave weaving, spinning and knitting demonstrations, talked to everyone who came through the door and provided the creature comforts to keep us going (including rice crispy squares with bacon - who would have thought it could be so good)!  The weekend wouldn't have been the success it was without you there to help!

Taking advantage of a lull in the crowd to focus on some spinning and knitting

The latest addition to my Event Basket collection:  braided yellow flag iris - coiled and stitched

What's in store for the coming year? 
New workshops ideas were discussed this weekend; keep an eye out for information on bookbinding with Martin, knitting side-ways sox, weaving a bicycle basket of English Ivy and more harvesting opportunities with SPES (Himilayan Blackberry, English Ivy, Yellow Flag Iris). 

Happy Weaving!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Mondays in December at UWC

Crafty Mondays begin again in December.

Starting on December 3rd, Mondays 6-8pm will be craft night. The first session is knitting based - you'll find more information under 'events'.

It seems from the amount of interest that the Urban Weaver Collective has generated during The Crawl that there may be a much larger number of people at the Monday craft nights in future. I just wanted to warn people that I haven't managed to get my normal energy level back post-surgery and am finding it quite hard to cope with these 2 hour sessions.

So while I'm happy to help to the best of my energy, please be prepared to learn from and help each other during these sessions - you all have way more skill than you think you do!

And if anyone is prepared to help with the set up and clean up of these sessions, that would really be great and would help.

Also, thanks to the tireless crew who helped set up and look after the UWC studio during the Crawl.

Good news! Martin Borden, who does all the excellent video work for the UW Collective, like documenting the Scottish Broom and invasive species work has agreed to head up a couple of Mondays next year teaching bookbinding.


Sunday, October 28, 2012

Eastside Culture Crawl

The Culture Crawl is fast approaching!  Only three weeks away! 

Several people have expressed interest in helping out.  For anyone interested - a sign up sheet will be posted at the studio by October 30th.

Suggested ways to help out:

-  setting up (Wed, November 14th)
-  cleaning up (TBA)
-  contributing items for sale and/or display (drop off at the studio by Wed, Nov 14th)
-  hanging out in the studio

Please comment or send the studio an email if you have any suggestions or are unable to make it down to the studio to sign up!

I'm looking forward to seeing everyone out at the event! Whether your helping out or just stopping in to say "Hi!"!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Dyeing with Woad

Monday, October 22:

This was the last of the 4 week Special 'Spin Sox Sessions'!  Having learned to darn holey socks, make a drop spindle, spin yarn and how to knit it into a sideways (only needs 2 needles!) socks, we dyed the yarn using woad seeds.

The woad seeds were kept at a low simmer for an hour and the unmordanted colour produced was a smokey green (there are no photos of this colour as it didn't show up too well in the lights of the field house).

After adding an aluminum sulphate mordant to the woad must*, we strained it and put the wort** into 3 different jars.

One jar was acidified with vinegar, one made alkaline with dishwasher powder and one had ammonia added.  The resulting colours varied from deep blue purple to a reddish purple.  None of these colours are even close to the turquoise blue that you get when making a woad (indigo) dye vat, or the pinkish beige that you get when you boil woad strongly.

The turquoise colour of a woad vat comes from the chemical indigin.  Indigin is one of the betalin family of pigments that includes the red of beetroot (betaxanthin) and the blue of indigo (betacyanin).  I now wonder if the purple from the seeds is just a slight chemical difference that happens in the indigin as the plant runs to seed - perhaps it gets partly changed into the red betalin by the sun as the synthesis of all of those chemicals are very sunshine level dependant.

That's why we can't get a good natural blue dye from temperate climates, so indigo comes mostly from India.  We can get blue from Salvia flowers, but it's not a strong blue, and you need to pick a lot of flowers!  Note that Salvia is a Mediterranean plant, so perhaps the blue of it's flowers is darker when growing in its natural habitat rather than in the Pacific Northwest gardens.

What a versatile dye plant!  There are lots of seeds available for free in the field house for anyone who wants to plant some next year... just ask me!

* must: the plant material and water combined - either boiled or fermented
** wort: the strained liquid from a must

What craft would you like to do on Mondays?

Penny’s Crafty Mondays at McLean Field House 6-8pm. Free (though I may make a small charge for materials in some cases).

PS I am not being paid, I am doing this for free as a volunteer.

I will be in the field house on Mondays in December. If you want to learn anything from the list below then come one Monday and we can discuss when and what. It will take a week’s notice (depending on what you want to learn) to get materials together. . I will try and post dates on this site for any requested teaching sessions in case you want to join in e.g.

Booked so far.................

Monday 3rd December

Anything knitting. Bring along your UFOs - Unfinished Objects and we will work on any problems. Socks (sideways, top down 2 on one needle, 4 needle) will be the special focus that night.

Monday Dec 10th

We will be warping an Ashford knitter's loom.

Please feel free to come along with whatever crafty thing you’re working on right now – we’d love to see what you’re doing! The field house has ample work space, tables, a hot plate and various tools.
I can teach you:

Anything knitting based

From basics of how to knit to multi-stranded fair isle, intarsia, entrelac, designing your own pattern, knitting with handspun, socks to sweaters, bonnets to blankets, fancy stitches, lace, domino, short rows, steeks – you name it, I can teach you how.

Spindles and spinning

How to make your own, how to spindle spin, ply, make sequined yarn, boucle or other fancy spinning. Navaho plying, 2 strand plying, spinning cotton wool balls, fleece, feathers – you name it, it can probably be spun.


How to make a cardboard loom and the basics of tabby and twill tapestry weave. How to warp a simple loom, working out your sett and picks. How to make loom-shaped garments (minimal cutting of fabric and using narrow widths). How to use an inkle loom.

Urban yarn harvesting

How to collect the right kind of thrift store sweaters (home made and commercial) so you can break them down into thread, ply the thread and use it to knit new garments.

Anything socks

Sock darning, sideways socks for the new knitter, socks on round needles for the more experienced knitter. Toe up socks for experienced knitters, toe up socks 2 at a time on the same needle too. Toe down socks for the very conservative knitter.

Watercolour 101

How to make small watercolours like book marks, gift tags and greetings cards. Basics of watercolour technique, but mostly just fun painting stuff. You’ll need to bring along some watercolours, brushes and watercolour paper.

Tatting and crochet lace 101

How to make a tatted or crochet lace edging on things like pillowcases, lingerie, or anything you want to embellish. You’ll need to bring along some crochet cotton, a very fine crochet hook/tatting shuttle (all of these are available at Dressew on Hastings St).

Mend your clothes 101

From zips to rips, buttons to hems and beyond. Bring along any clothes that need mending and we can make them as good as new. You’ll need to provide your own thread, patches, zips, buttons etc as needed, but luckily we have Dressew close by where all those things are available.

Come along and book in your request for December 17th and any January Mondays......

Headband Workshop for Youth

Our 3rd week of West Coast Design and Artist mentorship workshops, this week (Wednesday October 24th) we visited the urban weaving studio of Haida Weaver Todd DeVries, and made Headbands !

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Celebrating a year of successful harvests!

During the recent workshop on Saturday, October 6th, we celebrated a year of successful harvesting by weaving a 'horn of plenty'. 

Materials used:  English Ivy (harvested from Stanley Park), Siberian Iris leaves (harvested from the Means of Production garden), Day Lily leaves and old flower stalks (also from MOP). 

The next harvest date in Stanley park is this Saturday - October 13.  (click here for details)

Friday, September 28, 2012

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Baskets of Fun at the Surrey Museum

There are many programs, exhibitions, and special events happening at the Surrey Museum this Fall 2012. Visit their website to register for these programs and others.

Aboriginal Baskets

Join a local cedar basket weaver and hear about the history of cedar weaving. Learn how cedar bark is harvested, processed and woven into beautiful, functional items like baskets, hats and capes. Held in conjunction with the Museum’s Baskets for Barter exhibit.
1 session $10 (16+ years)
Saturday, September 29
1:00pm to 2:15pm

Cedar Weaving Workshop

Join a local weaver for an educational and creative cedar weaving workshop. Find out about the unique properties and challenges of using cedar, while making a bracelet with prepared cedar strips. Held in conjunction with the Museum’s Baskets for Barter exhibit.
1 session $24 (16+ years)
Saturday, September 29
2:30pm to 4:00pm

Check the Fall/Christmas 2012 brochure for
Programs * Exhibitions * Special Events * Services

or visit the website page

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Darning Socks and Home Spun Yarn

Join us in the Urban Weaver Studio on Monday nights for a series of Woolley Workshops led by local fiber artist Penny

6:00 - 8:00pm

October 1 - Sock darning

Bring along your holey socks, an apple or orange to stuff in the sock as a darning base, some yarn to darn with, and a needle with a large eye (a darning needle, tapestry needle or needle for sewing hand knit sweaters). Make those holed socks whole again!
No cost

October 8 & 15 – Drop spindle basics

Make yourself a drop spindle and learn to spin your own yarn.
Material costs:  $2/drop spindle using supplied materials and $2 for fleece/fiber to spin with

October 22 – Natural dyes

Learn how to naturally dye your newly spun yarn using local plant materials. Dye pots/baths will be available in the studio for your use.  Solar dyeing will also be demonstrated.   
No cost
No workshops will be held in November.
Planned workshops for December include learning the ‘2 needle method’ for turning your spun yarn into ‘sideways’ socks. 

Harvesting Materials

The first harvest of September is in!  English Ivy was harvested in Stanley Park by participants volunteering with the Stanley Park Ecological Society's Ivy Busters program.

English Ivy

The leaves and rootlets can be removed or left in place.  Thicker sections can also be split lengthwise and used fresh if you choose.  The Ivy we harvested in Stanley Park will be used in future workshops so we coiled and bundled it then hung the bundles to dry for storage. 

A generous donation of Cattail leaves was dropped off at the studio during the Celebration Night (on September 6, 2012).  The fleshy bottom of the stalks was cut off and the thin wispy white beveled edge removed and saved.  This bevelled edge is excellent for making thin cordage and I'm sure we will find many other uses for this down the road. The leaves were bundled and hung in the studio to dry for future use.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

English Ivy Harvesting

On Saturday, September 8th, Urban Weaver participants met in Stanley Park and along with other volunteers harvested English Ivy as part of the Stanley Parks 'Ivy Busters' program.

On site in the forest near Brockton Oval

A generous pile of ivy was designated "For Artists Use" only and set aside for us to take back to the studio . . . where we spent the rest of the afternoon coiling and bundling our newly aquired weaving material! 

A donation of fresh cattail leaves were also bundled for fututre projects and weaving exploration.  


Next Harvesting date:  

Saturday, October 13th (cookies and refreshments provided by the SPES cookie volunteer!)

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Thursdays Celebration!

Help Celebrate the success of the Urban Weaver Project

Stop by the Studio on Thursday, September 6 between 6:00 and 8:00 pm

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

5th Annual Strathcona Harvest Festival

The Urban Weaver Studio will have it's door open during the Harvest Festival. 

Sunday, September 16th from 12 (noon) to 4pm.

Tools and some weaving materials provided.  Bring your own materials if you have them and join us for an afternoon of weaving in the partk! 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Eastside Culture Crawl

Drop by the studio and meet with our community of weavers and other textile artists!

Click here for more information